Back on the 25th of June, Rob Walker wrote an interesting article for the New York Times title, “Tinkerer’s Toy” about a novel little connected device call the Chumby. In describing the curious little device Walker writes,
The Chumby is a fairly innocent-looking object resembling a clock radio, with a small touch screen and a leather-covered, padded exterior that feels like a beanbag. It costs $180, and it turns out that “alpha geeks,” … have been the primary target audience so far. What a Chumby does, basically, is display widgets - and your reaction to that shorthand explanation will situate you on the geek continuum .. What put the Chumby on the radar of people like Carla Diana, however, is what it might be made to do. The Chumby is Internet-connected, runs on Linux software and is extremely hackable. In other words, it is a thoroughly open-source device.
To me, there is something remarkably interesting about this device. That isn’t to say I’ve rushed out and purchased one (nor do I really plan to), however, the notion of being able to purchase a device that will continue to be improved over time is what is especially interesting. To be clear, improvements and upgrades to the Chumby are not dependant on you, the purchaser, buying the latest model (the 2.0 rev) or even having to purchase new software. Improvements are made by hackers. Now, don’t fret. Hacking, in this case, isn’t a sentimental journey to the halcyon days of Wargames but the means by which developers (aka CodeMonkeys) can build new “widgets” that can run on the Chumby.
For some (though not many in education) the Open Source Model of user-developers as contributors is not especially new. Sadly, education seems to be especially slow to adopt or even consider Open Source. I can’t even begin to recall the number of conversations I’ve had with schools or teachers where they run away from open source out of fear of lack of stability or lack of support. I, for one, think just the opposite is the case - and, you don’t have to look very far to see that others agree (see http://www.openacademic.org/news/building-a-student-portal).
So, what does this have to do with your local teacher?
Probably, not much. But, what I think it could have to do with your teacher (or your child’s teacher) is to adopt this same sort of model whereby we eschew some of the typical strategies for professional development (i.e., “let’s all get together and map our curricula for two days”) to a model whereby educators can be “hacked”. That is, what would it mean for the broader education community to be able to hack teachers to improve their teaching and improve their curriculum?
* Originally posted on Clarity Innovations Foundry